The Death of the CWHL Presents a New Opportunity for Women's Professional Hockey

By Stevens, Julie; Professor, Associate et al. | The Canadian Press, April 4, 2019 | Go to article overview

The Death of the CWHL Presents a New Opportunity for Women's Professional Hockey


Stevens, Julie, Professor, Associate, and, Sport Management, Centre, University, Brock, The Canadian Press


The death of the CWHL presents a new opportunity for women's professional hockey

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Julie Stevens, Associate Professor, Sport Management and Director, Centre for Sport Capacity, Brock University

The sudden announcement by the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) that it was ceasing operations has generated controversy and confusion. But as an academic who researches sport organizations, I have a different take -- the CWHL closure opens the door for new and innovative women's professional hockey opportunities.

On the surface, this ordeal reads as a tale of two leagues - one non-profit, the CWHL, and one for-profit, the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL).

When the CWHL announced it was shutting down, the league's board of directors stated "the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable." Many fans and media took this to mean the non-profit model won't work and the only option is the NWHL's for-profit approach.

But this is a shortsighted view.

Closure is a catalyst for change

The closure of the CWHL is a catalyst for other key stakeholders to enter the scene -- which has happened many times in the past for men's professional hockey, where leagues have come and gone.

As my early doctoral research shows, many different stakeholders -- including players, hockey federations, government and industry officials -- have influenced the development of hockey over time.

The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, created in 1914, initially resisted popular pressure to allow pay-to-play leagues to emerge. But as players opted for independent leagues that paid them, the CAHA loosened its regulations and accommodated a degree of professionalism while at the same time overseeing the development of hockey in the country.

This shift opened the market to hockey boosters and entrepreneurs, some of whom owned rinks and needed to have an attractive product in order to entice customers.

Money-making activity was fast and furious. Leagues came (the National Hockey League started in 1917) and went (the professional National Hockey Association lasted from 1909-18).

Rivalry between leagues

In his account of the emergence of the NHL, academic John Wong says separate camps jockeyed for position and profit as commercial hockey gained public interest. This is no different than the interplay -- or as some note, the business rivalry -- between the CWHL and NWHL that has unfolded since 2015, when the U. …

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